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Ohio Supreme Court: $10 gaming prize limit constitutional

CINCINNATI — The Supreme Court of Ohio on Tuesday upheld a portion of a state gaming law that places a $10-per-play limit on prizes awarded on skill-based amusement machines.

The court's 7-0 decision found that the prize-value limit added to the state's anti-gambling law in 2007 is “rationally related to legitimate government interests” in protecting its local economies and preventing criminal acts and enterprises as a preventive measure against illegal chance-based gambling.

The court found that the prize-limit is calculated to further the state's interest by eliminating the lure of big prizes and thus “minimizing irresponsible play while providing a legal safe harbor for harmless games” awarding token prizes. Those types of skill-based machines range from games such as Skee-ball and Whack-a-Mole commonly found at amusement-park midways and family fun centers to more sophisticated arcade games.

The amusement game arcade Spinners Skill Stop Games in Circleville, owned by Pickaway County Skilled Gaming LLC and Stephen Cline, filed suit in Franklin County Common Pleas Court in October 2007 saying the prize-limit provision was unconstitutional and asking that the Ohio attorney general be barred from enforcing it.

Spinners' attorneys argued that the limit served no purpose other than to define criminal activity and that the prize value is not rationally related to determining whether amusement machines are based on skill or chance.

Attorneys for the Ohio attorney general argued that the limit effectively removes the financial incentive for operators to disguise illegal chance-based machines as skill-based amusement machines by keeping operators from offering higher prizes.

The Supreme Court decision, reversing an appeals court, held that the limit does not violate the equal protection clauses of the U.S. and Ohio constitutions. The fact that one purpose of the limit is to help identify what gambling is illegal does not mean that it can't serve other valid government interests, the court said

“I believe the court was correct in ruling that the value limit was a reasonable limitation by the Legislature to try to separate between games of skill and games of chance and prevent one type of game from being tampered with to become another type of game,” Attorney General Richard Cordray told The Associated Press.

Messages were left Tuesday seeking comment from attorneys for Spinners.

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